Study: Women Twice as Likely to be Called ‘Bossy’ at Work

Eugene, Ore.

The term “bossy” is used to describe women almost twice as often as men in American workplaces, according to a new study from Palo Alto Software.

The study found that 40 percent of women have been called “bossy” at work, compared to just 22 percent of men. A majority of survey respondents indicated that the term is often used to describe individuals in leadership positions who micromanage, using words such as “controlling” or “domineering” to define it. Many respondents also indicated that “bossy” is used to describe women more often than men.

“'Bossy' is a derogatory word and generally only used to describe women,” said one female respondent. “Men are seen as taking charge or leading, but if a woman does the same, she is often considered bossy.”
As the term “bossy” takes center stage in recent campaigns from both Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg, and pop star Beyonce, many female business leaders nationwide are attempting to remove the negative connotation behind the word to instill the idea that it’s normal for women to display leadership qualities too.

“Unfortunately, corporate America is still hesitant to accept women in charge and the word ‘bossy’ has evolved into a way to negatively describe women who are decisive leaders,” said Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software. “But, instead of banning the word ‘bossy’ altogether, we should work to shift the culture, so young girls and women know that being called 'bossy' means you have displayed excellent leadership skills. I think women who are called 'bossy' should embrace the word and help change it’s meaning.”

While women were twice as likely to admit to being called “bossy” at work, both male and female survey respondents generally agreed that in a work setting, the term has a negative connotation when used to describe women. “Women get called ‘bossy’ while men are ‘giving direction.’ Same thing, unfortunately it has different meanings for different genders,” said a male respondent.

The study also found that working mothers generally face larger hurdles professionally than working men. According to the study:

  • 52% of women have experienced work-related gender discrimination compared to 9% of men
  • 40% of women have been called “bossy” in a professional setting compared to 22% of men
  • 27% of women with believe they get paid less than they would without children compared to 11% of men
  • 36% of men say having children has had no impact on their careers, compared to just 19% of women